This is the season of the calendar when Christians specifically remember and meditate on the resurrection of the Lord Jesus from the dead. He promised that he would be raised from the dead and he was—praise and thanks be to God! So many books have been written on different aspects of this event: The evidence for it as a credible historical event, the prophetic witness to it in the Old Testament, the spiritual significance of it according to the New Testament writers. All of these angles of inquiry about the resurrection of Jesus the Christ from death are worthwhile to pursue and do partially answer people’s questions and objections.
This year I have been thinking about a different question related to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. That is, “What is the ultimate purpose of the resurrection?” Immediately I can think of at least several different points which the writers of Scripture affirm. The Apostle Paul states that Christ being raised from the dead confirms his identity as Lord, the Son of God (Romans 1:4). The Apostle Peter asserts that believers are born again, have hope for a heavenly inheritance and are protected by God in this life because Christ was raised from the dead (1 Peter 1:3-5). Finally, the Apostle Paul affirms that we spiritually participate, by faith, in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus and thus share in his life and heavenly power for life now (Romans 6:5; Philippians 3:10-11).
One of great confessional documents from the Reformed tradition, The Second Helvetic Confession, summarizes and affirms these biblical affirmations:
“Further by this passion and death and everything which he did and endured for our sake by his coming in the flesh, our Lord reconciled all the faithful to the heavenly Father, made expiation for our sins, disarmed death, overcame damnation and hell, and by his resurrection from the dead brought again and restored life and immortality. For he is our righteousness, life and resurrection, in a word, the fullness and perfection of all the faithful, salvation and all sufficiency. For the apostle says: ‘In him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell,’ and ‘You have come to fulness of life in him’ (Col, chs. 1 and 2).” (The Second Helvetic Confession, chapter XI [cited from The Book of Confessions, The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Part 1 (2007), 5.076, p.71]).
This is an extraordinary summary of the biblical teaching on the mission and the practical effects of our Lord’s self-sacrifice for us. In keeping with the historic context of God’s revelation through Christ, the Word made flesh, we celebrate the fact of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. But this specific event has spiritual repercussions for all aspects of time and space and human history. Though set in a specific historical time-frame the power of God has flowed from Christ so that death began “working backwards” (C.S. Lewis)—thus bringing renewal of creation.
The focus of the Spirit’s renewal is on human beings and has its source in Christ himself: “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. . . Christ is all, and in all.” (Colossians 3:9-10, 11, ESV) If a human being experiences the power of the resurrection then that person’s whole being will be progressively transformed. For just as the whole person of the Lord Christ was raised from death so redeemed humans must be wholly transformed (not merely change some specific bad habit). The genuineness of a person’s faith will always be tested in the trials of life and made known through the choices to yield his or herself to obey God in life circumstances—rather than choosing to sin.
Death entered the human person through the will. The resurrection of the Lord from death, for those who believe God’s Gospel, makes it possible for God’s life, love and wisdom to be imparted into their lives to bring wholeness. We turn away from sin and in faith to the “living hope” (1 Peter 1:3) God grants because God has given us reason to have hope rather than despair. And this hope motivates us to want to be thoroughly changed in our hearts and then to reform how we live our lives.